Tuesday, 13 January 2015

RAVILIOUS at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939, Towner
Exciting news for fans of Eric Ravilious. Following smaller exhibitions at Towner (2010), the Fry Art Gallery (2011) and RWA Bristol (2012), Dulwich Picture Gallery is hosting the first major London show since the 2003 centenary exhibition. Opening in April, the Dulwich show will be the first big museum exhibition to focus specifically on the artist's watercolours. 

As curator, I've tried to balance well-known paintings like 'Train Landscape' and 'Tea at Furlongs' with watercolours that will be new to most people. People who have read my books or heard me lecture will know that I tend to be fairly down to earth in my approach; the first aim of the Dulwich exhibition is simply to show the best selection of available paintings, giving people an opportunity to see 'in the flesh' pictures they may already know from books and prints. 

Eric Ravilious, Dangerous Work at Low Tide, 1940, MoD Art Collection
I decided early on to arrange the paintings by theme, rather than in date order. That way we can break down the barrier between Rav's peacetime work and his career as a war artist, and look at the wartime pictures not as a separate group but as an integral part of the whole. 'Dangerous Work at Low Tide' may depict a military operation in early 1940, but it is also a study of dawn's early light that fits alongside peacetime paintings of similar subjects. Ravilious was limited in his choice of subjects during the war, but he retained his enthusiasm for enigmatic interiors and unusual perspectives.

Dulwich is perfect for this exhibition, which continues the venerable museum's series of shows devoted to 20th century British artists: John Piper, Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Paul Nash... not to mention David Haycock's 'A Crisis of Brilliance'.

I was there recently and had a look round the Emily Carr exhibition. Having known little about this Canadian artist I enjoyed her work very much. Her skies are really something, and I love the way she painted and drew forest trees. She reminds me a little of Georgia O'Keeffe, but her pictures seem more instinctive, more immediately expressive. I'll be going along for another look before the exhibition ends in early March

'Ravilious' opens next, on 2 April 2015. 


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ravilious fans - watch this space!!

Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, lithograph, 1936/7

Hello! I do hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and are looking forward to the new year. Exciting news for Ravilious fans coming up in 2015! Look out for an announcement in the middle of January, when all will be revealed...

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, February 2pm, 1936, private collection/estate of Edward Bawden
It seems amazing that seven years have passed since Tim Mainstone of The Mainstone Press commissioned me to track down the shops portrayed by Eric Ravilious in his remarkable 1938 book 'High Street'. I spent one memorable day racing around London, armed with a folder of pictures and an annotated A-Z, trying to visit a dozen or more sites before dark, and another with Tim exploring the Hedinghams in the pouring rain.

Writing about art and artists is always enjoyable, but there's nothing quite like a quest. Come to think of it, all of the books I've written have involved at least an element of sleuthing. Finding locations is always fun, but so is teasing out a new influence or connection. Top of the list, though, is discovering a painting. When JS Auctions sent me a photo of the Ravilious watercolour 'Aldeburgh Bathing Machines' it hardly seemed possible that such a beautiful painting had been hidden away for so long.

Although it was the Ravilious that made the money in last Saturday's auction, Tim and I were equally excited by the discovery of a second painting that had not been seen for many years, Edward Bawden's watercolour showing the back of Brick House, Great Bardfield, and entitled 'February, 2pm'.

The auctioneers kindly took the time to show me both paintings last week, and while the Ravilious was, as Anne Ullmann put it, 'an absolute corker', the Bawden was full of surprises. I knew that he liked to work on non-absorbent paper so that he could scratch into the paint, but I had never seen the results of this approach up close. It looked as though Jackson Pollock had lent a hand with a welter of scratch marks, pencil scrawl and jagged stabs of pastel.

Which makes our new Mainstone Press quest that much more exciting. The art world has rather forgotten that in the 1930s Edward Bawden was renowned not only as a talented illustrator and designer but also as a watercolourist of great skill and daring. Exhibitions at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1933 and Leicester Galleries in 1938 were well received by critics and buyers alike, and it was this commercial success that now makes the paintings so hard to find.

Many of the pictures disappeared into private collections and have rarely, if ever, been seen since. And the task of locating them is made rather more difficult by the fact that the 1933 paintings were given lines of poetry for titles - often cleverly apt lines, but too wordy for everyday use. Often the watercolours were given more straightforward titles by owners or dealers, so it is not easy to work out which is which.

However, the quest is going well, and a number of fascinating, often lovely and always inventive pictures have come to light. We'll be putting a book together in due course, so if anyone can help us find more of these pre-war Bawden watercolours, do get in touch with me or with The Mainstone Press.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Pop-Up Bookshop for Art on the Hill

**NEWSFLASH** The 2014 Art on the Hill app is now available for iphone/android, which means you can wander the streets of Windmill Hill (above) and listen to artists chatting about their work. Congratulations to David Smith, who made it happen.

Our house in Windmill Hill, Bristol, will be temporarily transformed over the weekend of October 4th/5th into a pop-up bookshop and print gallery. My friend Christopher Williams will be exhibiting his rather wonderful linocuts and talking through his creative process with the help of precious sketchbooks, and I'll be selling my books about Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Peggy Angus and Edward Seago.

We're part of the 2014 Art on the Hill art trail, which covers Windmill Hill and Victoria Park in the southerly regions of Bristol. Have a look at the website and you'll see the diverse range of art and crafts on offer - I tried picking out some highlights but the list got too long. I'm particularly intrigued by Bedminster's smallest maze, which is advertised with the question: can you get lost in a front room? In ours yes, you probably can.

As on any art trail there are lots of fascinating houses to nose around in - because we're on a hill they tend to vary a lot in layout and views - as well as the park, city farm and community orchard. There are even musicians of one kind and another playing in the park and at venues around the trail, so it should be fun. If you do come along, pop in and say hello!